Brief History of the Alaska Gold Rush


The Great Stampede

At the end of a century, the most spectacular gold strike was the Great Klondike Stampede. In August of 1896, George Washington Carmack, Skookum Jim and Tagish Charlie found gold in their pans, and the rush was on. In just one year, 1897-1898, over 60,000 adventurers made their way to the Klondike. Most came to Skagway or Dyea by ship. Then they had to transport a thousand or more pounds of supplies over either the Chilkoot or White Passes. This often meant carrying the loads on their backs, paying the customs duty into Canada and, upon arriving at Lake Lindemann, building a boat to transport them down the Yukon River.

The Golden Shipment

The "Seattle Post-lntelligencer" sent its newsmen to meet the "Portland" before it docked. The scoop was out on the streets of their cargo of $700,000 worth of gold. The Seattle headlines swept across the country.

Chilkoot Avalanche

On April 3, 1898, tons of wet snow buried hundreds of stampeders struggling up "The Scales" in the Chilkoot Pass. Volunteers dug for days to rescue the living and retrieve the dead.

The White Pass and Yukon Route Railway

From sea level at Skagway, the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway climbs 2,885 feet to White Pass summit in only 20 miles of track, one of the steepest railroads in the world. This great engineering feat was completed July 29, 1900. The railroad construction employed approximately 35,000 workers, 2000 being the most employed at any one time. The total cost was approximately $10 million. The operation of the new railroad rendered the Chillkoot Trail obsolete. The railroad carried thousands of prospectors to the Klondike gold fields despite the fact that by the time it was completed, the great stampede was already over.

Soapy Smith & Other Bad Guys

The lure of gold brought more than miners and adventurers to the North. It also brought con men and thieves. Notorious among them was Jefferson "Soapy" Smith, whose gang ruled Skagway in 1897 and 1898. Soapy met his end when he and his thugs fleeced a miner of $2,800 in gold. The miner, instead of slinking away beaten, fired up the citizens of Skagway who formed a vigilante committee headed by Frank Reid, a civil engineer. Reid stood up to Soapy and shot him in the heart, but was fatally wounded in the shootout.

The Golden Sands of Nome

When destitute miners on the beach at Nome realized that the ruby colored sand at their feet was laced with gold, they must have thought that they had died and gone to heaven. The beach strike was a poor man's paradise where digging the gold was said to be easier than stealing it. The work required only a shovel, a bucket or can, and a crude, easily built rocker. At the height of the summer mining season, nearly 2000 men, women and children were rocking on the beach. It is estimated that the "beachcombers" mined as much as $2 million in gold from the sand. By fall of 1899, Nome, easily reached by ship, had become a booming city of about 5,000.